Actor Dileep, who has been trying to defend himself from allegations that he is involved in the abduction and reported sexual assault of a leading Malayalam actor, took the familiar path of victim blaming to distance himself from the accusations.
Speaking to Reporter TV, Dileep denied that he had anything to do with the case. He further alleged that the survivor had been "going around" with the prime accused, Pulsar Suni, in Goa and that she should have thought about the company that she was keeping.
What's more, even though the investigation of the case is still on, other prominent men from the industry like actors Salim and Aju Varghese were quick to jump to Dileep's defence.
We've seen this happening time and again when powerful men have been accused of having any connection to an incident of sexual violence. The response of their peers is often disbelief, denial, and an attempt to trivialize the incident.
Whether it's Tarun Tejpal or Mahmood Farooqui, the "boy band" assembles soon enough to "vouch" for the character of the accused, confidently claiming that they know for a fact that the man would never have done such a thing. Accompanying these declarations are insinuations that the woman was asking for "it" somehow or the other.
Indeed, even though the survivor in this case has not named Dileep in her statement, Salim wrote on Facebook that she, along with the accused Pulsar Suni, should be subjected to a lie detection test.
Dileep â€œettan", as he's known, carries quite a bit of clout in the industry. He's the treasurer of AMMA, the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists. He's also a producer and owns a multiplex called D Cinemas. The actor was instrumental in bringing to an end the standoff between theatre owners and distributors early this year. Although he entered the industry as an outsider with no connections, in a career spanning over 25 years, he has established himself as a force to reckon with.
While everyone is innocent till proved guilty and it's understandable that Dileep is rattled by the allegations, it is completely out of line to suggest that the survivor brought the assault upon herself.
The survivor, a woman of exemplary courage, has said that she will consider suing the actor for his defamatory comments. What is deafening, though, is the silence of the rest of the industry which seems reluctant to take on Dileep for his insensitive statements which amount to slandering and character assassination.
When news broke out about the crime in February this year, many stars from the film industry came forward to condemn the attack and express their solidarity with the survivor.
From posting about the incident on Facebook to organising a meet to show their support, it was a rare instance of so many celebrities gathering to talk about gender-based violence.
However, as the days passed and more details about the case began to emerge, it became clear that this wasn't the first instance when a woman from the industry had been subjected to assault, threats and blackmail.
The Women in Cinema Collective which was formed after the attack to bridge gender disparity in the industry, acknowledged the fact that there have been other such incidents which never came to light.
What was different about this instance was that the victim dared to speak out and break the culture of silence that shrouds such cases. So, the expression of shock from the industry was really an official acknowledgment that â€˜yes, this happens,â€™ rather than actual surprise.
We've only come so far in the discourse where people are willing to acknowledge that sexual assault happens in the first place and already, there are efforts to turn the clock back and make this the same old narrative of asking for it.
The mindset behind Dileep's arguments is the prime reason why victims of sexual assault are so reluctant to speak up, especially if they happen to be in the public eye. The narrative can change so quickly from sympathy to blame depending on the players involved.
The buddies of Dileep "ettan" would do well to allow the police to conduct the investigations before delivering verdicts of guilt or innocence on social media. And as for Dileep, if he feels compelled to flap around in agitation, he must learn to do it while keeping the law of the land in mind.
The fight has not gone out of the survivor and her battle is one that finds resonance with many, far too many, who haven't been able to find their voice like she has.